writing

Don't Kill Yourself Over Your Art

“True artists kill themselves at their peak to prevent themselves from making bad work.”

Okay. So this. I’m so sick of this. I’m so tired of people thinking that madness is a prerequisite to making good art.

I know too many people who think they have to suffer in order to create. Like, people who will intentionally go out of their way to make themselves uncomfortable, unhappy, or even in pain in order to create better art.

Stop this. Just. No.

In the first place, where is the fucking logic in that? Look. Stop sweating it. The world is already a miserable enough place as it is, and you really don’t have to go out of your way to find suffering. Just wait. It’ll come to you. Chill the fuck out.

Secondly, this idea that art comes from madness or that the two go hand in hand is crap. And even if it wasn’t, YOUR ART IS NOT WORTH IT.

Let me say that again.

YOUR ART IS NOT WORTH YOUR SUFFERING.

If your art makes you uncomfortable, if your art makes you depressed, if your art is compromising your unhappiness in any way at all FUCK YOUR ART.

Good art does come from hard things. I’m not going to argue that. But the two aren’t synonymous, and it’s so fucking dangerous to think that way. More importantly, there are other ways of creating. Throw away this notion that your best work has come out of some of your darkest moments. If that’s what you think your peak is, I have good news.

You haven’t hit it yet.

So if you think you've hit rock bottom, and your sitting on the valley of your life as an artist, here are some things to try before calling it quits:

1. Make shit. Not art.

Let yourself fuck up. Not everything you create is going to be beautiful. But your creativity isn't a well that you can dreg dry. It's bottomless. You'll go through dry spells, but that doesn't mean you're broken. Wait it out. Rain always comes again. And don't fear ineptitude. You're making art, not building a bridge. No one's going to die if you fuck up. Allow yourself to suck. 

2. Follow passion, not pain.

If you're living with a mental illness, that shit is not your superpower. You don't have x-ray vision, or an insight into the world that "normies" are lacking. Sorry to rain on your parade, but if mental illness came with cardholder benefits, wouldn't we all be vying for it? You're limiting yourself and your art when you define yourself by the confines of an illness. Choose to focus instead on the things that get you fired up. Choose to define yourself by something other than your art.

3. Try not being an artist.

And by this I don't mean give up on your art completely. But have you ever tried being something other than an artist? What about a stamp collector? A jogger? A small-time ice skater? The miraculous thing about art is how very not mystical it is. It's not a religion, and if you devote yourself to nothing than its practice, turns out you're probably cutting yourself off from a lot of different sources of inspiration. Try drawing from the mundane rather than the maddened. You might save your sanity a couple extra years.

I'm aware that this all comes across as being very salty, and while I have a fair amount of anger towards this perception of art to work through, please know: I'm not angry at you if this is how you feel about your art. For a long time, I too, felt I had peaked at 15.

But please. Please know. You are worth more than your art. You have infinitely more value than anything you could create, and that is beautiful. You will find a way to create and be happy.

Please don't kill yourself over your art.

One of my favorite screenwriters, Max Landis, has a video on this topic, which I'll link to here. I highly recommend. If you need someone to talk about this, or anything, the comments section below is always open.

Shai Cotten

Adapting for TV: The Magicians

Adapting for TV: The Magicians

I FINALLY DID IT.

I finally finished reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

I started watched The Magicians SyFy TV adaptation mid-February, and quickly realized that I needed to be reading the source material.  Stalking “The Magicians” tag on Tumblr led me to believe that there was more to the story, and to the central theme of the series - the crippling depression that haunts the series main character, Quentin Coldwater, even as he steps foot into a world of fantasy and magic, and his quest to escape his own miserable existence.  I hurriedly bought the first installation off Amazon (you can find it here) and started reading it alongside the first season premiere.

If you haven’t read the books, or if you’ve read the books, but haven’t watched the series, let me just tell you: the TV adaptation and Lev Grossman’s novel are two entirely different beasts.

Shai Cotten

I Am Worthy of a Creative Life

I Am Worthy of a Creative Life

After wrapping up a meeting downtown for the pre-production of After Oil, my webseries with Jessica Naftaly, I headed down to a new cafe on Main Street and grabbed myself an iced coffee.  While I was sitting out under the awning, I slipped out my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and decided that, right then and there, I was going to finish reading it.

It dawns on me as I’m writing this that Big Magic is the first book that I’ve been able to get through all summer.  I found myself nearing the end, and when I approached this quote, I felt I was about to cry:

Shai Cotten

What is an EBook?

A couple weeks ago, I discussed the merits of traditionally publishing versus self-publishing.  Today, I'd thought I would go into more detail as to what self-publishing is; specifically, into the details behind eBooks.

So you've written a book.  Or maybe several books.  And you've decided it's high time you put your book out into the world.  Maybe you're disheartened by the slow grinding pace it takes to query the necessary agents or publishers into order to get your book a contract.  Maybe you've just decided you'd like to cut out the middle man altogether and go straight to your readers.  You're ready for self-publishing!

There are a couple different routes for those who want to self-publish.  If you dead set on distributing a physical copy of your book to your fans, there are services out there that can make physical copies available to your readers, but only on the digital marketplace.  You won't see your book on the front display of Barnes and Nobles, but using Createspace you can upload your manuscript and have it available to sale on the Amazon Marketplace.

But with the rise of the Kindle, a whole new fad in self-publishing has evolved - that of the eBook.

While an "eBook" often refers to nothing more than an electronic version of a book that is already in print, self-publishers have transformed eBooks into a whole new format for reading.  These days, the greater percentage of eBooks you'll find available on the Kindle store (or other digital marketplaces) are only available in that digital format.  They range from non-fiction to fiction, and typically cost little more than $2.99 a pop.  Why is that?  Because today's market for eBooks revolves around the short novel.

Convenience is the name of the game in today's digital world, and that is why the majority of eBooks published for sale on digital marketplaces as standalone digital copies tend to range anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 words.  For your frame of reference, that can be up to 50 or more pages.  Which is why many authors, like me, have started to develop their novellas into eBooks!

My novella, You Will Make It, fits very snugly in that size range, coming in at just under 15,000 words and about 30 or so pages.  Novellas are the perfect size for eBook publishing - meaty enough to be published as more than a short story, and at a small price, but quick enough that they don't become an endeavor to read.  EBooks are, in essence, the new penny-back novel of our generation.

I am proud to announce that You Will Make It is officially launched today!  You can buy You Will Make It here on the Kindle store for $2.99, or get it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  Since the page has just recently gone live, please be patient with any technical difficulties that may occur, and please be sure to let me know if you have any problems.  Thank you so much for your support, it has meant the world to me!

Shai Cotten

Why Do We Love Horror?

When I was a kid, I used to be terrified of the dark.  I had chronic nightmares, and not only was I convinced that there was a monster living in my closet, but that my dolls moved when I wasn't looking, and that my house - along with most of the houses in my hometown - was inexplicably haunted.

Although my childhood was largely characterized by an overactive imagination and predominately defined by fear, I did not entirely shrink away from the macabre fantasies which plagued me.  Instead, in a way, I embraced them like a calling.  The shadows and demons of my childhood were my Narnia.  My Pan's Labyrinth.  Something to be overcome; an adventure to be had, no matter how paralyzing.

So when I was old enough to have finally gotten my hands on a horror movie with some friends, I didn't flinch away as a kid tormented by nightmares might.  I ran towards my fear.

I've been writing horror stories - or stories that delve into the macabre, at least - pretty much ever since I started writing.  I've been consuming horror films for years, and attempting to write or produce my own since I was a teenager.  When people ask me what sort of screenplays I write, I typically reply firstly with "horror".  I normally get one of two reactions: an ecstatic, "Oh, that's so cool!", or a definite affirmation that they could never stomach doing such work; they feel they cannot even stomach watching horror movies.

The misconception I typically pick up on in these scenarios is that since I am an avid horror movie fan, I don't watch these films through my fingers with my hands in front of my face, or with the sound cranked to the lowest volume.  In fact, I do.  Despite the fact that this is the genre I write in, like most moviegoers, I scream and cling on to friends when jump-scared.  I get grossed out by gore.  I yell at the screen and put the blankets over my head when the main characters do something ridiculously stupid, undoubtedly leading to their demise.

I have a feeling that most fans and creators of horror alike have the same relationship with the genre, though of course I could be wrong.  But if the people who are creating these stories are just as terrified of them as the people who actively avoid them, why are they creating them in the first place?

Writing in horror, in a way, could possibly be a form of self-assurance.  In classes on philosophy, I have learned of the concept of "the sublime", which deals with subjects that typically strike awe and often fear into the hearts of viewer.  When witnessed through a lens of "art" or "fiction", pieces applying this aspect, we are able to truly appreciate the awe, when we would typically be overwhelmed by a rightful terror.  You wouldn't stand before a tsunami or a hurricane, or some other natural disaster and pause to think about how incredible the event is.  You're concerned for your life.  Art lets us admire that which would typically be fled from.

This is the epitome of horror.  Of course, you wouldn't typically seek to find the awe or magnificence in the crimes of an ax murderer, or the demons and ghosts that lurk in old colonial houses, but somehow horror aficionados manage not just to make the circumstances of childhood and everyday nightmares view-worthy, they also make them entertaining.

By transforming nightmare into fiction, we create a way to engage with horror in way in which the feeling of our life being in jeopardy is minimized, if not eliminated.  If you are someone plagued by macabre fantasies, having that level of control over what happens in said fantasy gives you - as a creator or as a viewer - a significant sense of power.

Horror might not be for everyone, but I strongly believe that it has an appeal that is intrinsic to our human nature.  Engaging with what it is that we fear in a safe space makes us feel powerful.  That sense of power - of purpose - is what gives us a rush of catharsis, a feeling of release and triumph that is ultimately the goal of all good storytelling.

Shai Cotten